God tells Daughter Zion—who stands for the nation of Israel–to “make your shade like night at the height of noon” (v. 3) for the daughters of Moab. Isn’t that a beautiful image? Here in church, and maybe especially during the season of Epiphany, we like to talk a lot about darkness and light. And that’s usually in the context of how great light is and how terrible darkness is, which can be a problem when these ideas get transferred onto human bodies and re-inforce racial stereotypes of light skin being good and dark skin being bad.
These light/dark images can be a problem. Which is one reason I really love this image of the shade like night being a safety, a shelter, a protection for the migrants from Moab; of the shade like night being the good thing while the bright light of noon poses a threat.
That’s how it is, of course, for migrants in the desert at the US/Mexico border. The bright heat of day can be deadly. Shade—and water—can save people’s lives.
An organization called No More Deaths provides water—among other things—for migrants near the border. Last year they placed 14,500 gallons of water on migrant trails. Their latest newsletter contains a piece by a desert aid worker who writes of the beauty of the desert as well as the death it brings to so many migrants who face the journey through it. In August, volunteers found the remains of four recently deceased migrants near Arivaca, AZ. The author writes of the care that people offer to each other in the desert, the risk many migrants take to report bodies they see, and the comfort it can bring to grieving families to know where their loved ones died and that their bodies were treated with respect.
“Make your shade like night at the height of noon.
Shelter the outcasts, the fugitive, do not expose.
Let the outcasts settle among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” *
Those who come to the US from their home countries do so for different reasons, to be sure. But all who risk the dangerous migrant trails, the life-threatening desert journeys, the often violent border patrols, the complex immigration system—they are all seeking shelter from a destroyer of one type or another.
These words from Isaiah 16 give clear direction about how God wants us, as individuals and as a society, to treat those who migrate to our country. It strikes me that this passage also carries implications beyond the migrant context. Many people, in various ways, are outcasts, are fugitives, seek shelter from all types of destroyers.
How can we provide cool shade for those at risk in the desert heat?
How can we provide a safe space for those cast out of other spaces?
How can we shelter people, in God’s faithful love, from the destructive forces of the world?
It is a high and holy calling, to care for each other as best we can. These are important words for Daughter Zion to hear.
There is also, in this text, a word of hope for the daughters of Moab. Maybe you are feeling the noon-time sun beat down on you. Maybe you are feeling cast out—separated from places and people you once considered home. Maybe you are up against a destroyer in your own life right now.
For the times when you identify more with the daughters of Moab than with daughter Zion:
May you rest in the dark, cool, shade of Divine refuge.
May you find a true home with God’s people.
May the faithful love of the Holy One offer you secure shelter from all that destroys. Amen.
*Scripture translation is by Dr. Wil Gafney from A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church
(This post is excerpted from a sermon preached at Peace Mennonite Church on January 29, 2023.)